Totem Acoustic Mani-2 loudspeaker Followup, October 2001

John Atkinson wrote a Followup in October 2001 (Vol.24 No.10):

When I reviewed the $3995/pair Totem Mani-2 in February 1996 (Vol.19 No.2), I was very impressed by this modest-sized but expensive two-way. In particular, the speaker produces an astonishing amount of low frequencies, this due to its compound woofer alignment, which features two 7" Dynaudio drive-units, one mounted magnet-to-magnet behind the other, with a volume of air trapped between the two cones.

For a given bass extension, the compound configuration (patented in the UK by Linn Products as "Isobarik" in the 1970s) allows both a significant reduction in enclosure size and, with push-pull drive as in the Mani-2, better low-frequency linearity. Against those improvements, however, must be set increased enclosure complexity, the cost of a second drive-unit, and twice the current demand on the partnering amplifier. And while the sensitivity is essentially the same as that of a single unit—just over twice the moving mass is driven by twice as much motor—the maximum power handling remains that of the single unit.

When we were arranging Larry Greenhill's recent review of Totem's floorstanding Forest speaker (Stereophile, April 2001), Totem main man Vincent Bruzzese suggested that a Follow-Up on the Mani-2 was overdue. I agreed, not least because it would be useful for me to audition another familiar pair of speakers in my new Brooklyn listening room.

I set up the new samples (serial nos. 521A and B) on 24" Celestion Si stands (filled with lead shot and sand) in the positions where the big Sony SS-M9EDs had worked best. I used digital front-end components exclusively: a Mark Levinson No.31.5 CD transport feeding a No.30.6 D/A processor via Illuminations Orchid AES/EBU datalink; an Accuphase DP100/DC101 SACD transport/processor combination; and a Technics DVD-A10 DVD-Audio player. At the end of the review period, I used the new Linn Kivor TunBoks/Oktal hard-drive and processor combination as a CD-quality source. The preamplifier was a Mark Levinson No.380S plugged into a PS Audio P300 Power Plant at 90Hz, and power amplification was first a pair of Levinson No.33H monoblocks, then a Krell KSA-50. Balanced interconnects were Madrigal CZ Gel-1 and AudioQuest Python Canare, unbalanced were Canare and Linn. Speaker cables were biwired sets of AudioQuest Gibraltar.

Even in a different room, my first impression was, again, "Bass. A lot of it," as I had written almost six years before. Although I had anticipated having to move the Mani-2s close to the wall behind them, my new room being a bit shy in the midbass, I ended up positioning them a bit farther out in the room than the Sonys, to minimize boom. Even then, on Shirley Bassey's Diamonds are Forever: The Remix Album (Nettwerk America 0 6700 30178)—which, despite having some truly trashy-sounding techno mixes, does offer awesomely deep bass—the little speakers produced quite a thunderous sound. The low-frequency warble tones from Stereophile's Test CD 3 played cleanly down to the 32Hz band, with no obvious "doubling" (so-called because second-harmonic distortion doubles the frequencies of the bass fundamentals).

This is still the most extended bass I've ever heard from a small speaker, and although getting the low-bass to midbass and midbass to upper-bass transitions evenly balanced involved some fine-tuning of the speaker positions, there was excellent low-frequency clarity. The inventive bass guitar lines on Mary Chapin Carpenter's new Time*Sex*Love* CD (Columbia CD 85176), for example, were reproduced with a delightful balance between weight and tunefulness.

At the other end of the spectrum, while the sound wasn't bright as such, the balance was a touch dominant in the top two octaves, as it had been with the 1995 samples. Cymbals sounded "whiter" than they had with the Sony speakers, and there was occasionally some slight emphasis of sibilance on Jane Monheit's Come Dream With Me (N-Coded Music 26656 42192), Stereophile's "Recording of the Month" for August 2001. And, as with some other speakers that use a metal-dome tweeter with an undamped, high-amplitude ultrasonic resonance—the Eposes come to mind—I could hear some very-high-frequency "wispiness" on some recordings. However, this was apparent only when I was listening close to the speaker; everything seemed fine at the normal listening position.

I had been very impressed by the earlier Mani-2's clarity and lack of coloration in the midrange. The current sample was still very good in both respects, but there was a touch more low-treble "bite" to its presentation. A CD that has been spending much time in my Levinson transport recently is Branford Marsalis' Creation, with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Sony Classical 9699-89252-1). Admittedly, I am a sucker for these gorgeous Impressionist scores, and have found them enjoyable on a car radio, but Branford's alto saxophone on Ibert's Concertino da camera was just a little too homogeneous-sounding above the treble staff, giving the instrument more of the tonality of the soprano saxophone he plays on other tracks. I noted a similar effect on clarinet: there was a slight "hootiness" above the instrument's chalumeau register.

Nevertheless, the overall balance was expansive and grain-free, aided by an enormous but still well-defined soundstage.

Perhaps my only other quibble concerned the Mani-2's lack of sensitivity. Yes, I used it with a Cary SET in 1996, but a 50Wpc amplifier is probably going to be about the smallest you can use to drive it to sensible levels.